Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a medical treatment in which the patient breathes 100% oxygen while inside a pressurized chamber.  Hyperbaric therapy has been used the world over for a wide variety of conditions, including athletic performance and injuries, autism, attention deficit disorder, auto-immune disorders, Bell’s Palsy, brain and head injuries, cardiovascular disease, cerebral palsy, Crohn’s disease, dermatological conditions, dementia, interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome and colitis, Lyme disease, macular degeneration, multiple sclerosis, neuropathies, non-healing wounds, learning and developmental disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, surgical healing, spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury, and more.

How does HBOT Work?
Oxygen, under pressure, dissolves into the fluid portion of the body, elevating arterial oxygen levels up to 20 times higher than normal. This delivers therapeutic levels of oxygen to the entire body, including areas of poor circulation.  Oxygen is essential for the proper functioning of every cell in the body. Greatly increased oxygen levels from HBOT stimulates growth of new blood vessels and allows for increased cellular energy It improves cellular metabolism and  increases removal of metabolic waste.  It also directly destroys many microbes, stimulates immune function, and dramatically hastens wound healing. 

What is a Treatment Like?
As the treatment begins, the pressure inside the hyperbaric chamber gradually increases. The pressure change is felt mainly in the ears, similar to the fullness felt in the ears when landing in an airplane or mountainous driving. During compression, the chamber may warm slightly for about ten minutes, then cools to room temperature when reaching treatment pressure. During the treatment, patients may watch a video, read, listen to music, or sleep. Most treatments last about sixty minutes.  While the chamber decompresses at the end of the treatment, the ears again experience a sensation of fullness as they adjust to the pressure change. Some patients report feeling lightheaded for a few minutes immediately following a treatment, but this is brief, and they are quickly able to continue with their normal daily activities such as working or driving.

What is the History of HBOT?
Hyperbaric chambers have been in use for centuries, as early as 1662. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been used clinically since the mid 1800's. Tested and developed by the U.S. Military after World War I, it has been used safely since the 1930's to help treat deep sea divers with decompression sickness. Clinical trials in the 1950's uncovered a number of benefits from exposure to hyperbaric oxygen. These experiments were the forerunners of contemporary applications of HBOT in the clinical setting.

Currently, the FDA recognizes only a few specific conditions as being treatable with hyperbaric oxygen therapy:

  • Radiation damage from cancer treatments
  • Infections in tissue, muscle, bone, or skin, including drug-resistant infections
  • Non-healing wounds, including diabetic ulcers
  • Surgical sites with grafts or flaps
  • Bones and/or tissues that are difficult to heal
  • Crush injuries
  • Rare conditions such as decompression sickness, anemia, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, or emboli from air or gas
  • Cerebral edema (swelling of the brain) 

Feel free to explore the following links for more information.  A more extensive list is provided in our patient education page on hyperbaric oxygen therapy. 

International Hyperbaric Medical Foundation 
Improvement of attention span and reaction time with hyperbaric oxygen treatment in patients with toxic injury due to mold exposure
Safety and efficacy of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for the treatment of interstitial cystitis: a randomized, sham controlled, double-blind trial
Systematic review of the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygenation therapy in the management of chronic diabetic foot ulcers
Hyperbaric oxygenation in the comprehensive therapy of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (clinico-immunologic study)
Hyperbaric oxygen as an adjuvant for athletes
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy might improve certain pathophysiological findings in autism